The spacecraft's magnetometer instrument (MAG) detected the unmistakable signature of hydrogen gas being stripped from the day-side. “This is a process that was believed to be happening at Venus but this is the first time we measured it,” says Magda Delva, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Graz, who leads the investigation.
Thanks to its carefully chosen orbit, Venus Express is strategically positioned to investigate this process; the spacecraft travels in a highly elliptical path sweeping over the poles of the planet.
Water is a key molecule on Earth because it makes life possible. With Earth and Venus approximately the same size, and having formed at the same time, astronomers believe that both planets likely began with similar amounts of the precious liquid. Today, however, the proportions on each planet are extremely different. Earth’s atmosphere and oceans contain 100 000 times the total amount of water on Venus. In spite of the low concentration of water on Venus Delva and colleagues found that some 2x1024 hydrogen nuclei, a constituent atom of the water molecule, were being lost every second from Venus's day-side.
Last year, the Analyser of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA) on board Venus Express showed that there was a great loss of hydrogen and oxygen on the night-side. Roughly twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen atoms were escaping. Because water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, the observed escape indicates that water is being broken up in the atmosphere of Venus.
The Sun not only emits light and heat into space, it constantly spews out solar wind, a stream of charged particles. This solar wind carries electrical and magnetic fields throughout the Solar System and ‘blows’ past the planets.
Unlike Earth, Venus does not generate a magnetic field. This is significant because Earth’s magnetic field protects its atmosphere from the solar wind. At Venus, however, the solar wind strikes the upper atmosphere and carries off particles into space. Planetary scientists think that the planet has lost part of its water in this way over the four-and-a-half-thousand million years since the planet’s birth.
“We do see water escaping from the night-side but the question remains, how much has been lost in the past in this way,” says Stas Barabash, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna and Principal Investigator of ASPERA, that looked at night-side data.
The discovery takes scientists a step towards understanding the details, but it does not provide the last piece of the puzzle. To be certain that the hydrogen is coming from water, Delva and colleagues must also detect the loss of oxygen atoms on the day-side and verify that there are approximately half as many leaving Venus as hydrogen.
So far, this has not been possible. “I keep looking at the magnetometer data but so far I can’t see the signature of oxygen escaping on the day-side,” says Delva.
It also highlights a new mystery. “These results show that there could be at least twice as much hydrogen in the upper atmosphere of Venus than we thought,” says Delva. The detected hydrogen ions could exist in atmospheric regions high above the surface of the planet; but the source of these regions is unknown.
So like a true lady, Venus still retains some of her mystery.
Håkan Svedhem | alfa
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy